Doctor of Philosophy in Geosciences

The doctoral degree in the Department of Geosciences is a terminal degree for students willing to develop expertise in their area of their interest. This research degree at Western Michigan University is designed for individuals intending to take leadership roles in academia and research.

Four core areas of specialization in geosciences are:

  • Hydrogeology
  • Geochemistry and petrology
  • Geophysics and tectonics
  • Stratigraphy and sedimentary geology

Admission requirements

To apply for this program, you are expected to meet the minimum entrance requirements of the Graduate College and must demonstrate an interest and aptitude for conducting high quality research.

  • Have a major in geology or a related field: A bachelors or master's degree in geology or a related field is required; however, a Master of Science is strongly recommended. You must have completed, or must complete as soon as possible upon enrollment, GEOS 1300, GEOS 1310, GEOS 3010 or GEOS 3350 and a field experience such as GEOS 4390 or equivalent. Any remedial coursework completed upon enrollment must be completed with a grade of B or better. For students entering the program with coursework deficiencies, the program requirement timeline will begin once remedial work has been satisfactorily completed, rather than upon matriculation in the program.
  • Good academic standing: You must have a grade point average of at least 3.25 (out of 4.0) for prior graduate work. To be admitted without a master's degree, a GPA of at least 3.25 during the previous two years of undergraduate study is required.
  • Recommendations: Three letters of recommendation must come from individuals well situated to evaluate your qualifications. Have the original recommendations sent directly from the recommenders. If the letters are coming from college or university faculty, it must be on the institution's letterhead. Letters without a seal, appropriate letterhead, or recommender's initial on the envelope are not accepted.
  • Advanced quantitative, verbal and analytical skills: Please submit your Graduate Record Examination score.

Once you are admitted

Within one year following matriculation, you must choose a primary advisor.

Within 18 months following matriculation, you will choose a doctoral committee that reflects your expressed research interests. This committee will facilitate and guide your academic and research development and will be comprised of:

  • Your advisor.
  • Two faculty members from the department.
  • One committee member from outside of the department. It is strongly recommended that this member comes from outside the research facility or University, although members may be chosen from other programs at WMU.

Strictly follow the requirement timeline. Only under exceptional circumstances, can you request your advisor to petition the faculty for a timeline modification.

Program requirements

  • Coursework: Complete at least 60 total credit hours of which 30 credit hours must be at 6000 level or above.
  • Departmental seminar presentation: Attend weekly departmental seminars and participate in the discussions. Each year except the first year in residence, you must give a 12-minute seminar presentation. The proposal presentation will fulfill this requirement for that academic year. The dissertation defense will fulfill the requirement for the final year.
  • Geology seminar enrollment: You must enroll in GEOS 6600 for at least one semester.
  • Research proficiency: You must demonstrate proficiency in two appropriate research tools. At least one must be completed outside of your declared core areas of study. You are strongly encouraged to complete at least one tool via coursework or training outside of the department. For details regarding acceptable research skills, consult with your advisor. Research tools may include:
    • Achieving a working knowledge of statistics by receiving a grade of B or better in an approved course or by showing the ability to apply advanced statistical analysis to the doctoral research.
    • Demonstrating competence in computer science or programming by receiving a grade of B or better in an approved course or by applying computer programming to the doctoral research.
    • Demonstrating proficiency in areas relevant to the doctoral research, including mathematics, biology, chemistry, geography, remote sensing, physics, or engineering. Proficiency will be demonstrated by achieving a grade of B or better in an approved graduate course.
    • Mastering the design, repair or development of instrumentation used as part of an approved geosciences course or in the doctoral research.
    • Acquiring appropriate research skills, which will be demonstrated by achieving a grade of B or better in an approved geosciences graduate course.
    • Demonstrating development, while enrolled in the doctoral program, of reading competency in a foreign language relevant (as deemed by the student's advisor) to the dissertation research. This skill will be demonstrated by receiving a grade of B or better in a 401 course in the language, by passing a standardized examination, or by successfully translating one or more technical articles assigned by the advisor.
  • Research enrollment: You should complete at least three research credit hours of GEOS 6340 with graduate advisor by the end of the first full year in residence.
  • Qualifying criteria: This requirement must be completed no later than the end of the second full year in residence. Students must achieve a grade of A in three of four core graduate courses. One graduate course in each of the four areas listed above will be designated as a core course. Students entering the program with a strong background in the core areas may be excused from enrolling in one or more core courses by achieving a grade of A on the final examination. Students who do not achieve an A on their first attempt will be given an additional opportunity to pass either the course or the final examination.
  • Proposal examination: By the end of the second year, develop a written proposal describing your planned doctoral research. Give a 20-minute public talk about the proposal followed by a closed-door oral examination conducted by your doctoral committee. If you do not pass the exam, you will be given an additional opportunity that must be made within a time frame determined by the committee, and must occur within one year of the first attempt. If the external committee member cannot be present on campus for the exam, they may submit written comments or questions.
  • Publication: At least one paper as a first author must be accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal prior to graduation.
  • Scientific presentation: Prior to graduation, give at least one scientific presentation in an external venue approved by the doctoral committee.
  • Doctoral dissertation: Complete 15 hours of Doctoral Dissertation (GEOS 7300).
  • Successful defense: Give a 50-minute public presentation followed by a closed-door defense conducted by your committee. See the graduate catalog for policies and procedures in the event of an unsuccessful defense. Please check the dissertation and theses frequently asked questions for additional information. The final written dissertation must conform to the University guidelines and may be written choosing one of the following two options:
    • Write a traditional comprehensive dissertation based on your research. The dissertation should include an introduction, literature review, methodology, results and discussion.
    • Present at least two first-authored papers that have been accepted for publication in appropriate peer-reviewed journals. This also fulfills the program's publication requirement. A separately written introduction, literature review, relevance of the study and conclusion must be submitted.